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Corruption: Sale of NNPC/Eleme Petrochem and the bureau of lies

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2 things are clear from BPE’s recent statement on Eleme Petrochemicals: it is either the officials are completely ignorant of why they are selling at give- away prices or the Bureau is hiding and manipulating facts.

How did we get to this point as a people that our public office holders can openly justify glaring aberrations without even thinking twice? How else can anyone describe the “presentation” by the Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE), in defense of its alleged shoddy sale of the NNPC’s Eleme Petrochemicals Complex (EPCL) as uncompleted and abandoned project, if not to say it was disturbing at best and at worst, very unfortunate and irresponsible.

Are we to assume that the BPE has been deceiving Nigerians and their Government by deliberately selling completed and profitably –running establishments as uncompleted? It seems that BPE has a peculiar and unconventional but bizarre way of viewing these things. Is it not outright irresponsibility for Bureau to say projects in Nigeria have “actual” and “political costs”? It is doubtful if many transparent and serious-minded people in Project Management know what the BPE spokesperson meant by “political cost of projects in Nigeria.”

Two things are clear from BPE’s recent statement on Eleme Petrochemicals: it is either the officials are completely ignorant of why they are selling some of our crucial national assets at give- away prices or the Bureau has been hiding and manipulating facts for whatever reasons.

Even this writer as a young graduate in Port Harcourt then, could attest that in this Eleme Petrochemicals Complex matter, the BPE is deliberately obfuscating the facts of its sale to Indorama. By the way, can BPE tell Nigerians what equipment Indorama had added to the Process Plants in order to operate them since they bought the complex?

It is on record that the Eleme Petrochemical (NNPC/EPCL) Complex turned out its first product in August, 1995. The complex was formally commissioned by the then Head of State, General AbdulSalam Abubakar (represented by the then Chief of Air Staff) in May, 1999. And the privatisation of the Company was in 2005/2006. 

Yet the Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE) in attempting to exonerate itself from renewed protest of its alleged complicity in the fraudulent give-away price they sold the complex to Indorama of Indonesia has come out to publicly say “the Eleme Petrochemical Project had not been completed when BPE started its privatisation.” Haba, is this the basis of activities undertaken by the BPE over the years?

It is well-known that Indorama could not even operate the Complex and had to plead with NNPC to leave their well-trained employees with them for quite some time and the company did not even come with a single item not even as small as a little dosing pump. And ever since, Indorama with the help of NNPC staff has been running the plant’s production processes with the huge inventory of “spares” they inherited from NNPC. So how could BPE claim that the plant was sold as scrap or rather abandoned uncompleted project? How long can we continue to run ourselves down like this?

As it is now, what officials of BPE reportedly said, was a complete disregard and disrespect for the genuine and patriotic efforts and actions of prominent, committed, and internationally- respected Nigerians like Chief Philip Asiodu, Professor Tam David-West, Professor Jubril Aminu, late Dr. Rilwanu Lukman, Dr. T. M. John and others too many to be listed here, who made enormous and honest  contributions to the realisation of Eleme Petrochemical Complex, first of its kind in the annals of the Nigerian downstream.

Without doubt, there is an urgent need for the BPE to review their mechanism for assessing staff in sensitive and highly technical areas to avoid the terrible and lasting question mark that keep coming up every now and then over sales of complex technical projects.

Most often, we see cases of obvious lack of knowledge of basic project types which is most times covered by cleverly trying to appeal to popular sentiments of dangling the contract inflation and over-invoicing bait as reasons.

How could responsible government officials of the Bureau who were supposed to know what they are doing ever claim that “over-invoicing and inflation of prices made the cost of the Project to be high thereby necessitating its abandonment?  Were they no aware that the EPCL project was executed with the cost of Engineering, Procurement Services, Construction, and Commissioning as a fixed and invariable lump sum? 

The cost of materials and equipment was under a form of Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) in which the contractors would bear the cost of any amount above the GMP. If BPE did not know these facts, how did they arrived at the price they sold the complex to the Indonesians and their Nigerian godfathers?

Understandably, the man that supervised the project as managing director (now former) of Eleme Petrochemicals company, Dr Edet Oahimin-Akhimien, could not hide his anger over the statement credited to BPE on the sale of the complex and did not mince words as he asked the BPE particularly its director of Oil and Gas Department to urgently apologise to Nigerians for his comments if he was not misquoted “or take the path of honour and integrity and tell Nigerians the facts which are documented.”

In his words: “I read with embarrassment and shame the difficult-to- believe statements credited to Mr. Alex Okoh, BPE’s Head of Public Communication and Mr. Yunana Malo, Director of BPE’s Oil and Gas Department”, in the report. I am worried that we continue to ridicule ourselves before the International Community in a Country where we have some of the best brains in the world. 

Some years ago, a former Director-General of the BPE told a Committee of the National Assembly that the Eleme Petrochemical Complex was “designed to fail.” This glib, unprofessional, and most embarrassing declaration, confidently made, was reported in many Nigerian media from where it was naturally, picked up by the International Community.

“For such a highly placed Official to declare, so irresponsibly, that a Complex that had the best technologies from France, Canada, Italy, U.S.A. etc for the Process Plants, and world-renown Engineering and Construction Contractors for Engineering, Procurement, and Construction from Japan, Italy, France etc, reputable Consultants from Britain, loans guaranteed by the Federal Government of Nigeria – a guaranty that a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, humbly and personally, went to Japan to pledge, had the overall cost with all the equipment confirmed by the World Bank, verbally and in writing, to the former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Owelle G.P.O. Chikelu, as even cheaper than in the West Coast (the reference in the Industry), was shameful.”

(Ifeanyi Izeze lives in Abuja and can be reached on: iizeze@yahoo.com; 234-8033043009)


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